Madness never seemed like one of ‘my’ bands until the Britpop explosion happened and I started hanging out in Camden at every opportunity and saw what an impact the band had had in NW5. From hearing their songs constantly on the jukebox in The Dublin Castle and occasionally drinking with Suggs or being on the next table when Chas Smash would get ON his table as someone played ‘One Step Beyond’ on the juke, suddenly, years after my mate Mikey had bought all the singles when we were kids, they were one of my loves. (by this point, my excellent friend Nick had told me all about seeing them and listening to them and his love of Chas Smash and it all seemed to fall into place, I finally got it)
The positive of Before We Was We is the fact that every member of the band gets to tell their tale in their own words. Sometimes one will tell a tale and then the other characters involved will reply with a swift “Did I fuck!” and you begin to wonder who is the truth teller and who is just an excellent story teller. There are many people in this band that just from reading their words, you imagine them being a great pub companion. And that pub would be The Dublin Castle, obvs. Or The Good Mixer, if I could convince them to come round the corner, which for a beer, by these stories, I would imagine they would agree to.
The negative, is something that perhaps I should have worked out from the title. This is not a book about the stellar career of one of Britain’s biggest bands. Nope. It is the tale of everything that happened, before everything that happened. Now I had the same problem with Brett Anderson’s first book. And indeed with every autobiography I read. Unless you are, say, Shirley Temple, Miley Cyrus, Haley Joel Osment or Joe Jonas, I’d rather you jumped past your childhood years and got straight to the juicy years when fame arrived. Some of the characters here sound like the sort of people you would cross the road to avoid in their early years, it is not just ‘youthful exuberance’, there are criminal acts being described that doesn’t make them sound more Hollywood, it just sounds a little pathetic, stealing from all of those trying to make a living in their area, it’s not the whole band, but they don’t seem to apologise too much for it and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. “But you love the autobiogs of Motley and Marilyn Manson, Lacey!”, yeah, I know, I would just rather have heard about further hits rather than fights and ruckus filled nights.
For more positives, the last 100 pages are an incredible look at a band at the initial peaks of fame – the first tours, the early Top Of The Pops, the insane 2 Tone tour, hitting America just before The Specials. THIS part of the book is a five star rollicking rock n roll tale but it is just a shame that the tape is cut when they are only at the start of their amazing journey. I’d still buy a second volume though, so I guess they did their job.