Graham McPherson, or Suggs as he’s better known, is part of a very exclusive club. Just him, his Madness bandmates and Brian May have done one thing together – performed on the roof of Buckingham Palace. To many people, this makes him a bit of a legend.
Last January Suggs turned 50 and shortly after his birthday he was lying in the bath nursing an epic hangover from the celebrations the night before, when there was an almighty crash.
‘I jumped out of the water,’ he says, ‘and there, lying amid shards of broken glass, was our four-year-old cat, a British blue called Mamba.
‘I was 50. My kids had recently left home and now the cat was dead. I was really upset. It triggered a deluge of emotion, an event that somehow tipped me over the edge.’
We’re speaking on the phone and Suggs is mucking about, sounding like Darth Vader. But he quickly laughs at himself.
‘It’s half a century. Up to that point it’ was just numbers, but then I thought about my frazzled memories.’
The result is Suggs: My Life Story, a show which explores his past and his adventures when Madness were getting a string of Top 10 hits in the 1980s. And he’s just about ready to show it: ‘I’ve spent a long time fiddling about with it to make it exactly how I want. Finally, I have the chance to get it going and it is terrifying.’
And the first stop on the tour is the Kings Theatre, Southsea, on Tuesday. His most recent time in the city was following an appearance with Madness at the Isle of Wight festival – he ended up getting stuck in Portsmouth.
He says: ‘I remember having a marvellous night in this pub that I can’t remember the name of. It was tremendous.’
Having grown up in 1970s Soho, Suggs didn’t have the most conventional of upbringings. He lived with his mother Edith in a succession of rented rooms, the young boy trailed around after her when she went drinking in famous watering holes like the Colony.
He says: ‘You’d enter a room full of artists and actors and various hangers-on. But, amid all the booze, it was a creative hotbed. Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, George Melly, Jeffrey Bernard – they were all regulars.’
And he never really knew what happened to his father: ‘He disappeared when I was three and the last thing I remember was that he was in a lunatic asylum. I guess it’s a journey of self-discovery. It’s me reflecting on myself.
‘I sing about five or six songs too, which are all Madness ones. I also talk about Baggy Trousers, which is self-explanatory, but I explain why I wrote it.’
The tour will take Suggs to venues across the country for more than two months, and the performer says he hasn’t done a similar tour since 1979.
‘It doesn’t give you quite the same crazed adrenaline as a Madness concert,’ he explains, ‘but this is something I can stretch out and have a wander. It can evolve.’
Suggs first came up with the concept for the show at the start of 2012, which turned out to be a particularly big year for the band. Most people will remember Madness turning up on top of Buckingham Palace during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June, performing Our House.
It was just as incredible for Suggs: ‘I stood there and thought “What on earth are we all doing?” We were expecting to be asked to leave. I reckon they stuck us on the roof to keep us out of trouble.
‘It really was quite incredible, an extraordinary and remarkable experience. Stuff happened that we couldn’t have envisioned. It really seems to have made a big impact.’
The band went on to perform on stage as part of the London Olympics’ closing ceremony and in the same year they released their tenth album, Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da.
For Suggs, it was important to create a new album: ‘I think we were in danger of falling back in as a 1980s nostalgia band. For about five or six years we were doing tours at Christmas but it was an ever-destructing creative hole, so what we tried to do is write great songs.’
And 2013 looks to be a year that is just as popular for the band. The day after we speak they performed outside BBC Television Centre as part of celebrations marking its demise.
Suggs says: ‘I have memories of going in there when I was 18 to perform on Top of the Pops. I’ll never forget it.
‘The younger ones don’t really know about it. They were the days when dads would throw their newspaper at the TV when it was on. I mean 14 million people watched it, everybody watched it!’
The string of performances Madness has done in the past year just shows their lasting popularity since they first shot to fame in 1979.
‘It was a big thing but at the time we really weren’t aware of what was happening,’ laughs Suggs. ‘I’d known some of these characters since I was about 13 or 14, and all of a sudden I was going around the world making music with my friends. It was unbelievable.’
He adds: ‘‘Madness have always been about accentuating the positive. It’s no accident our songs are still played 30 years down the line. They’re a clear-eyed celebration of life as it’s lived. And we’re still together, still making music.’
After the tour finishes in June, Suggs still has a number of events lined up over the summer including performances and a possible book.
He says: ‘Madness are playing some race courses. I think there’s something marvellous that Madness and losing your money go together.
‘I’m also trying to write a book. I think I’ve nearly bankrupted a publishing house because I keep pushing back the date, so that needs to be done now.’