Suggs: My Life Story (2017) ***

January 14th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Julien Temple | Owen Lewis; Drama-Documentary | Cast: Suggs, Perry Benson, Dean Munford; UK 2018, 96’.

Director Julien Temple (Absolute Beginners) creates a wild and anarchic bio-pic of Madness frontman Suggs, using the singer’s performance in a London music hall (these sequences are directed by Lewis) as a background for an energetic trip into Suggs’ past, mixed with satire and cartoons.

Graham McPherson, who was born in Hastings in 1961, grew up with his mother, after his father had to be institutionalised – due to drug abuse – when Graham was only three years old. He got his stage name from the encyclopaedia of Jazz Singer’s, the name at random. The encyclopaedia belonged to his mother, a chanteuse, who worked in London clubs around Soho, after having spent much of her son’s youth in a village in Wales. Young Graham went to a comprehensive school in Swiss Cottage, where he met Mike Barson, who would joined him in 1976 in the ska band North London Invaders, which later morphed into Madness. After splitting up in 1986, Madness re-grouped later, and are still active today, mostly known for hits like “It must be Love” and “Our House”.

After playing for a long time in small basement cellars of pubs in North London (such as the Hope & Anchor), Madness literally caused an earthquake in 1992, when 75 000 assembled in Finsbury Park to hear them play – the noise level reached Five on the Richter Scale. After 1994 Suggs recorded numerous single albums, having worked with Morrissey in 1989/90. Suggs married the singer Bettie Bright (who starred in Temple’s The Great h Swindle) in 1982, the couple nowd have their own kids. The former “Bürgerschreck” Suggs is today a Patron of Children in Need and supports Cancer Research with his performances.

Suggs is very self-deprecating on stage, making fun of himself, when remembering his excitement of starring with Sienna Miller and Keira Knightley in a film – before finding out that he had just one line in the script. His journey into his past was set off by the death of his beloved cat, on his 50th birthday. Travelling to Birmingham to find out more about his father, he had to admit that even a second marriage did not change the self-destructive course his father chose – he died young, his second wife only lasting another year. But Suggs himself seems to have the last laugh: when he travelled with Madness to Paris for a gig in August 2009, the band made a mess of their surroundings “even pinching the contents of the mini bar – which was free.” Oasis lead Liam Gallagher had travelled in First Class, and told the promoter, that they would not share a stage with Madness. After performing on a side stage, said promoter had to beg Madness to perform instead of Oasis – who had broken up after a violent re-concert confrontation between the Gallagher brothers Liam and Noel.

Pianist Dean Mumford and Pierry Benson as the erratic taxi-driver, chauffeuring Suggs around London, complete this mad-cap caper, with impressive images by DoP Steve Organ. And for those not mad on Madness, Suggs: My Life Story, takes us a very worthwhile journey into London’s social and musical history.


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