A few minutes in the company of Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson and you feel like you’ve known him forever. He’s the bloke down the pub who’ll have a pint with you and share a few good stories.
He may be 52 years old, but Suggs seems stuck in a lucky time warp: ageless, witty and good fun, much like the music he made with the iconic seven-piece ska pop band Madness back in the 80s.
Last year was a major one for the sharp-suited, pork pie-hatted British band, performing on the roof of Buckingham Palace and in the closing ceremony of the London Olympics, singing Our House to an ecstatic crowd.
“It was an incredible year,” Suggs recalls. “The Jubilee was the highlight and had the most impact. I met the Queen. We were suddenly accepted into the establishment.”
Madness’s music is still as irreverent as ever, with timeless hits like Baggy Trousers, One Step Beyond and It Must Be Love.
We’re here to discuss Suggs’s autobiography, That Close, much of which is adapted from his one-man show in which he relates his life story with anecdotes, jokes and music.
Raised by his mother, Edith, a jazz singer and barmaid, as a youngster he was often taken to clubs where she worked in London’s Soho and East End.
He didn’t know his father, who left shortly after he was born. Years later he discovered he’d been a heroin addict who died in 1975.
“I was sort of curious, but when I met the band, which I did when I was about 15, there were a lot of kids from disparate families and if your dad wasn’t around then your dad wasn’t around; it wasn’t unusual.”
Suggs, who has been married to Anne (singer Bette Bright) for 31 years and has two grown-up daughters, Scarlett and Viva, says Madness didn’t really attract groupies.
“We started off in Camden, and I didn’t see a girl in Camden until 1979. They didn’t exist. We were just in Irish pubs with people who were drinking Guinness and punching each other.
“We didn’t have a huge girl demographic when we started. It was boys jumping up and down, it was a laddish thing.
He married Anne when he was 21, during Madness’s heyday.
“Anne was around from the very beginning. We started going out when we were 18. She’d seen me, supported me and cherished me,” he said.
In the last five years, their popularity has reached new heights. “There’s still a chance for us to do pop music without being seen as old fools, ” he says.
l That Close by Suggs is published by Quercus, priced £20. Available now.