Madness frontman turned touring raconteur recalls an extraordinary life well lived at the Ulster Hall
People have struggled to define Suggs: My Life Story in Words and Music, to give this production its full title. Is it a play? Is it stand-up comedy? Is it music hall? Whatever definition you choose, this touring stage show is a complete joy from start to finish.
Framed around the death of his beloved cat Mamba on his 50th birthday, Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson takes the audience on a journey through his life, recounting his own days in baggy trousers at school and through his times with the much loved seminal ska act, Madness.
Along the way, Suggs also poignantly recounts his search for the father he never knew. And all this is peppered with musical numbers from throughout his eventful career, accompanied on stage by his trusty piano player, Deano.
Resplendent in a remarkable tartan suit, Suggs is a natural born raconteur, gifted with an easy and conversational manner. At times it feels like he is regaling us with stories over a pint in his local, rather than in a sold out Ulster Hall.
McPherson vividly describes the scenes and stories that have made up his life, and although a lot of the material can be read in his recently published autobiography, That Close, watching him re-enact these anecdotes is captivating, and often hysterical.
He paints in vivid colours the 1970s London in which he grew up: 'There were gangsters, prostitutes, transvestites, good old fashioned drunks,' he recalls, before adding, with perfect comic timing, 'But there was also a dark side.'
Suggs’ story is woven around the epiphany he had on his 50th birthday, when he decided to learn about his father, who had left the family home when Suggs was just three-years-old. The sense of regret he developed around this estrangement is genuinely affecting, and he sways effortlessly between these more maudlin moments and the lighter, comedic passages that prevail in the rest of the show.
The narrative also shifts in time which, along with inspired lighting and musical queues, keeps the audience on their toes and rapt in attention – though Suggs has the charisma to keep us all entertained, these are smart theatrical additions that work well. Never accuse Suggs of being any less than value for money.
Songs from the singer’s back catalogue are dispersed throughout the evening. Accompanied only by piano, Suggs is in fine voice, and the 53-year-old nutty boy is still as spritely as ever. His boundless energy is infectious as he leads the audience through such classics as The Kink’s 'Lola', his own working of the Simon and Garfunkel hit 'Cecelia', and, of course, a handful of Madness favourites.
As the crowd sway along to 'It Must Be Love' and Graham Suggs McPherson says his goodbyes, it’s impossible not to smile after experiencing such an utterly life affirming show. Now, where did I leave my fez?
Visit the Ulster Hall website for information on forthcoming events.