Express & Star

Our review of Madness at Forest Live 2023

It was a house of fun for wearers of baggy trousers with no embarrassment from those enjoying the rocksteady beat.

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Madness at Forest Live held at Cannock Chase. Pic by Dave Cox.

Thousands of fans clad in two-tone inspired clothing, fez's and Doctor Martin boots descended on Birches Valley in Cannock Chase Forest to dance the night away to the sounds of Madness.

You would never guess that Madness were heading into their late 50s and early 60s the way they played. Photo: Dave Cox

I even bought a fez myself ahead of seeing one of my favourite bands for the sixth time, with each time featuring Suggs, Lee Thompson, Daniel Woodgate, Mark Bedford, Chris Foreman, Mike Barson and the Violin Monkeys a joy to see.

The legendary Ska band were in the woods to officially open the four nights of fun at Forest Live, which also sees Paul Weller, Tom Grennan and Jack Savoretti take to the stage.

The natural bowl makes it a perfect setting for such a show, with the rising ground meaning it was difficult to have an obscured view as people could stand higher up.

The Hawkmen played a fun set of jazzy rhythm and blues. Photo: Dave Cox

Before the main event, there were excellent sets from the Hawkmen, a four-piece group with a jazzy, rhythm and blues and rockabilly sensibility who got a few people up and dancing and played a set full of fun songs, with singer Cinta enjoying a dance amid a raucous cover of The Wanderer.

They were followed by Hollie Cook, who provided a trippier, more reggae-based sound, with her band playing a very tight and tuneful accompaniment to her strong voice and echoey effects.

Saxophonist Lee Thompson was a constant source of mischief. Photo: Dave Cox

It has been 44 years since Madness first hit the big time with the Prince, but the six original members haven't lost a step and seemed as full as energy as possible in a set which treated fans to a mixture of classics and more recent fare.

Starting with a raucous version of One Step Beyond, which got people up and dancing, the hits kept on flowing, with frontman Suggs keeping up a steady flow of quips and jokes throughout the show and engaging with the crowd like an old pro.

Hollie Cook was a great mix of trippy reggae beats and stunning effects. Photo: Dave Cox

This included joking that the organisers thought they'd booked a Spice Girls reunion, then saying it was the biggest county fair the band had ever played, while saxophonist Lee Thompson elicited laughs when he tried to climb the stage structure.

The audience carried a real contrast as well, from older fans who might have followed the band since the first show in 1979, to younger fans who had heard one of the hits and fallen in love with the band.

There were large crowds and a bounce in the air as Madness hit the stage. Photo: Dave Cox

As well as 1980s fare such as Shut Up, My Girl and The Sun and the Rain, the set also included Lovestruck from the 1999 comeback album Wonderful and the brilliant NW5, a favourite of the 2009 Liberty of Norton Folgate album.

The band are a working band as well, not just content to play the hits, but also writing new material for an album, and this was demonstrated with two new songs, the theatrical-sounding Baby Burglar and the thumping stomper If I Go Mad.

Even a momentary stall in proceedings when Wings of a Dove had to stop after the backing track stopped playing didn't detract from the show, which had the audience bouncing and dancing throughout.

Madness played the hits, as well as two of their newer numbers. Photo: Dave Cox

The hits section of House of Fun, Baggy Trousers and Our House was a good example of this, with people all over the field bopping along and having fun, while you'd never have guessed that band members were in their late 50s and early to mid-60s, such was their energy on the night.

Suggs still holds such stage presence after so many years. Photo: Dave Cox

After It Must Be Love was sung by all in attendance, the band returned for the encore fare of Madness and the one-last-dance of Night Boat to Cairo, ending a night of tremendous fun and great music for all those in attendance.

To Paul Weller, Tom Grennan and Jack Savoretti, the message is this: follow that!


One Step Beyond


The Prince


My Girl

The Sun and the Rain

Baby Burglar

Wings of a Dove

Return of the Los Palmas 7


If I Go Mad

Shut Up

Bed and Breakfast Man

Mr. Apples

House of Fun

Baggy Trousers

Our House

It Must Be Love


Night Boat to Cairo