INTERVIEW: DAN “WOODY” WOODGATE, MADNESS – February 2017
By Shane Pinnegar
Returning to Australia for their first tour in eight years, Madness bring their zany antics and dozens of pop hits to Fremantle Arts Centre on Monday, 10th April as part of their Australian ‘Can’t Touch Us Now’ tour. SHANE PINNEGAR pinned down drummer Dan “Woody” Woodgate to find out more.
100% ROCK: Woody, how are you doing today?
Woody: Hi Shane, yeah, very good, how are you?
100% ROCK: Excellent, mate. Thanks for your time, it’s much appreciated. It’s exciting news, you coming down for the first time in, what, nine years or something?
Woody: Yeah, I think it was eight years ago. We did a great show with Elbow, and Duffy, and Snow Patrol, and Kaiser Chiefs. Yeah, that was a tour and a half. That was brilliant, yeah. Good fun.
100% ROCK: So how is it for you, being in Madness almost 40 years after you joined the band?
Woody: What’s it like? [laughs] Well, I wake up every day thanking my lucky stars, thinking I’m a very lucky individual. Not many people get to do what they want to do, musically, and get paid for it, and travel the world, and talk to lovely journalists in Australia. So, there you go – what more can you ask for?
100% ROCK: That’s a very good point! You joined the band before they were even called Madness – you were there pretty much at Ground Zero for the band. For a bunch of late teens, 20-year olds, having those big hits on your first album and onwards, that must have been a very exciting time for you.
Woody: It was exciting! But it’s funny, it’s only in retrospect, when you look back, can you often see it for what it was. Because it was a roller-coaster ride that kind of whooshed by at incredible speed, and most of the time you’re absolutely knackered [laughs], not knowing what had hit you! [We] didn’t go home for years, lived out of suitcases on tour… It was bloody hard work, and very tiring, and sometimes [we] wondered what it all meant, because it wasn’t the dream that [we] thought it was. This image of glamour, and stardom and stuff, it was hard to grasp.
But it’s years later when you manage to take in your achievements, to prove all your hard work, and the benefits, in a sense, by slowing it down, enjoying it more, being a bit more present. When I do a gig now, I look out in the audience, I really enjoy it, and I’m thinking, ‘wow, this is really special.’ Whereas years ago, it was all just a bit of a blur.
100% ROCK: Madness had that very wacky, eccentric, British sense of humour, you were always dressing up in your videos and larking about. Was that the natural way you were, or was it more an image you created, like, ‘we have to be wacky now?’
Woody: Oh, no, no, no, no, no – definitely us! I mean, there’s individuals in the band that just cannot be told what to do, and really, if you say don’t do something, [they] will do it. We were out to have a good time, but we always said once we stopped having a good time we’ll stop. That’s exactly what happened in 1986. We’d been on the treadmill for long enough and we weren’t enjoying it, so we stopped.
The thing is, we took our music very seriously, but it’s that whole taking yourself seriously [thing] that we didn’t like. We all grew up in an area where we still had all our mates from school, and we don’t like that kind of detached [attitude]… we didn’t feel like we were accepted into the musicians’ world, because most musicians at the time, in the ’70s, were, I don’t know, pretty pretentious – up their own rear-ends, really. And you’ve got to remember, we came straight out of punk when it was all, ‘this is real,’ and you don’t have to be noodling away on the guitar.
We weren’t great musicians. Not really flashy musicians. The strength came from unity, all together. Our sound came from very simple playing put together beautifully. Still today, when people say, ‘oh, you’re so down to earth,’ you think, ‘well, what else am I going to be?’ [laughs]. Why, do you think I’m any better than you? I don’t think so.
100% ROCK: You might be surprised how many people we interview that have that, ‘look at me, I’m fantastic,’ attitude! So it’s really nice to talk to someone who is just natural and down to earth…
Woody: Oh, leave it out! [laughs] My wife always says to me, ‘remember that everyone’s poo smells the same.’ (laughs) Everyone goes to the toilet – however famous you are, it smells.
100% ROCK: You talked about unity, but there seems to be a bit of a contradiction within Madness. You guys can fight like cats and dogs, but, at the same time, you’re staunchly loyal and understanding of each other.
Woody: Oh, yeah, absolutely – it’s like a family. Come on, don’t tell me that you don’t fight with your brothers and your sisters and your mum and dad, come on – of course you do. For us, we speak our minds, and it’s like a family. Of course we fall out and we come back together again. But it’s like, I can have a go at one of my band members, but no-one else is allowed to have a go at one of my band members!
We’ve been through a lot, and the whole fact that we’re still together, I think, says a lot. We tolerate each other, and as you get older… I think we all become a little less tolerant of things as we get older and stuck in our ways. But I do think that’s our strength: Love and tolerance, really.
100% ROCK: Do you feel that as a band and as individuals, you’ve coped well with the highs and lows of the pop world over almost 40 years?
Woody: I think we all deal with them in different ways, but the strength is in unity. We do look after each other, and we’ve had an open-door policy for years, where people can go off and do their own thing at times. It was all a bit much for Mark [Bedford, bassist] at one point – he went off and he wanted to expand his world and get into his art world. He’s a fully qualified graphic designer now, because he had a couple years out where he went off and got re-educated, and got his diplomas and degrees and stuff, and he added that [string] to his bow, and then he came back.
Chrissy Boy [Foreman, guitar], at times, he couldn’t cope with it all and left, and is back again.
Mike Barson [keyboards] was the first to leave, and now he’s back. It’s because I think everyone’s got to be able to… there’s got to be a valve to let [pressure off] – you’ve got to be able to explore other avenues at times. We allow that. It’s a bit like that song Hotel California, ‘you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.’ [laughs] You can never leave the band.
100% ROCK: That’s a very understanding attitude, I think, and it’s obviously working for you because, look – here you are. That’s great.
Woody: Well absolutely. It’s not like, ‘if you don’t do that, you’re out of the band.’ It works… there’s something that works [for] the individuals in the band, and we don’t know why, but it works.
100% ROCK: I don’t recall hearing about this at the time, but I did read yesterday that Ben Elton and Richard Curtis were developing a TV show starring Madness around ’83/’84. What do you recall about that project?
Woody: Oh, yeah, God, that was hysterical. Yeah, it was brilliant. I think it was kind of post-Young Ones. The idea was that [Madness] were put in charge of the country, but we had to report to the Queen every day to tell her how we’d got on. We did one pilot, and it was actually really hysterical, it was just really funny. But of course, the BBC, in their wisdom, obviously didn’t pick it up.
100% ROCK: What a shame. That’d be really funny to have a watch.
Woody: I think you can find the pilot out there somewhere, so you might just be able to see how dreadful it was. But you know, it was actually very funny.
100% ROCK: Last year you released twelfth album Can’t Touch Us Now. How’s that been received by fans?
Woody: Great. Really well. It’s been extraordinary. We’re normally very wary of putting too many new songs in our set, ‘cos we’ve got, you know, 20-odd top 20 hits – that’s a long enough set as it is. We try and mix and match it, because obviously people come to see the hits. But it’s surprising how people have been demanding that we put more [new songs] in the set. It’s gone down incredibly well. We snuck in three, and we thought, let’s see how it goes, and it went down really, really, really well. So we added another, and all of a sudden we’ve got about six songs from the new album in the set, and they’re going down really well.
100% ROCK: Yes, it must be difficult to write a set list and include something a bit different when you’ve got so many songs that people absolutely love and were the soundtrack of their growing up and teenage years and whatnot?
Woody: Luckily, we’ve been around for years, so we mix and match it. We’ve changed the set around over the years. We’ll say, ‘oh, we’re going to play this song for a while, we’ll stick it in.’ But generally, there’s a rule of thumb that the cream rises to the top. We’re very, very sensitive to any song that doesn’t go down [well]… if people aren’t bouncing up and down and enjoying it, then it’s gone. [laughs] It’s down to the audience – you know, ‘oh, not everyone was singing along. That bloke in the third row looked a bit miserable. We’ll drop it.’ It’s a bit like that.
100% ROCK: We’ll be looking forward to a night of pretty much hits, and a few new songs, which, from the sound of the album would fit right on in next to the other songs.
Woody: They do seem to. It’s very good, I think we’ve got a nice mix now. The last show we did in Britain really went down well, so we’re hoping to bring that to Australia and do the same show, and see how you lot like it!
100% ROCK: Fantastic, mate. You’ve done a lot of work bringing awareness to your brother Nick’s schizophrenia and some programmes that help bring independence to those with mental health problems. That’s obviously a cause close to your heart, and you’ve made the Magic Line album with him a couple years ago as well. Is it a way to balance the fame of Madness, doing something a bit more personal?
Woody: Well, I’m always writing, and my brother Nick is always singing me songs, so we’re constantly working together in the background of Madness. It’s just a very simple rule. If Nick and I write something that we think in Madness-appropriate, we’ll give it to the band. But everything else we’ll, in our own time, go off and record it. Because it’s all a part of me as a songwriter. Sometimes I write stuff that’s just not appropriate for Madness, and I think it’s a really good valve, a really good release for me, to not be stifled in any way and continue writing stuff. My brother Nick, he’s such a talented musician that I really enjoy working with him, so why not?
100% ROCK: Fantastic. Well, mate, thanks so much for talking with us today, and all the best, and we’re looking forward to catching you when you get to Perth.
Woody: Lovely. I look forward to it.
An edited version of this story was first published with X-Press Magazine
Tickets for Madness ‘Can’t Touch U Now’ tour of Australia are on sale now.
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About the Author: Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE