Can’t Touch Us Now: Mike Barson on Madness’ latest album ahead of their Australian return

Madness keys-man Mike Barson is feeling pretty good about the way the iconic UK band’s latest album, Can’t Touch Us Now, has been travelling since its release in October of last year. Just recently, the band’s Australian return was bolstered; already announced to be appearing at Bluesfest over Easter, Madness will be touring some special headline shows in April too.

As we chat, Barson opens up about how recent shows have treated the band, particularly when it’s come to fitting new material in alongside a now well-established, extensive and beloved back catalogue of music.

“We put a lot of work into the show and into the production and everything, so that the new songs would get a bit of support.” he says. “It seemed to work, which was nice. When you put in a bit of work and you get a result from it, it’s obviously satisfying. There can be occasions where you put a lot of work in and it goes pear-shaped and it’s not as nice, though!”

Recording Can’t Touch Us Now brought the band together in a way that harked back to early Madness album sessions; for a group who has undergone many changes in its history, Barson admits that this particular creative process was refreshing and satisfying in a way that struck all the band members positively.

“It was satisfying all round, really,” he explains. “We used quite a few producers previously on some of our albums and there was a lot of discontent sometimes. You start working with people you don’t know very well and there’s a whole new sort of discovery that has to take place. Sometimes it’s great. There’s something about changing [though] and we’d done quite a bit of that on the earlier stuff; weren’t overly satisfied with what the results that we got from it and from the different producers were. This time we were like, ‘Why don’t we just do it ourselves?’ – we didn’t even get management that involved.”

“We found a little rehearsal room off Holloway Road in London,” Barson remembers. “It was a really cheap place, about 20 quid a day or something. Usually it’s an enormous amount of money. We didn’t bother taking all our gear down there; we could rent gear in there, so it was a very small time[frame]. We’d just turn up and at the end, you’d finish and you’d take a couple of things with you and that was it. We shed a lot of the baggage that usually comes with working and that made for quite a nice and refreshing atmosphere among us. It was a bit like in the early days when we first started, so there was no pressure.”

Establishing a balance in the studio between the band and production team that worked was not an instantaneous one to materialise. As Barson explains, the dialogue between everyone involved in Can’t Touch Us Now was open and ultimately led to stronger songs being selected for the final record.

“Often when we’ve been working  you think, ‘Oh that song’s not very good, how do I say it to him?’, he’s thinking, ‘I don’t like his song…'” he admits. “This time we just had a small bunch of songs; we really liked the songs and thought they were really good. We carried on like that and then we went into a small analog studio in East London with a guy called Liam Watson, who we’ve worked with before. He’s fanatical with old analogue equipment, so he’s got old organs, old drums and old recording equipment. It’s nice because we went back to the simplicity as well; you don’t have the opportunity for too many overdubs, so you’ve got to do something decent if it’s going to be on the record.”

“In the early times, we’d only have one track each or something, so you had to do something good! We still worked with Clive, our old producer, and we worked with Charlie as well, who we’ve worked with before and all got on with. It was a simple thing and we were very much doing it ourselves. We’ve been going a long time, but we haven’t always dared to go through the whole process and this time, we did. With Clive Langer, often you’d say, ‘Well maybe you know best…’ but this time we were like, ‘Well maybe you know best but still, I’m not happy with this and I’m not happy with that‘. We did things the way we wanted them but at the same time, not blindly, where people became self-indulgent. I think we had a balance to it but we tried to see through what we wanted and it seemed to work out.”

The fact that Madness have emerged into the spotlight as successfully as they were able to in 2016 – new album, stacked tour schedule – creatively reinvigorated and more importantly, as a dynamic and unified band, is impressive. Bringing the band’s upcoming Australian tour back into focus, Barson remembers when times weren’t so smooth for the band.

“We’re all looking forward to it, everybody wanted to go.” Barson enthuses. “It’s nice to go to Australia; we’re partly going just to go to Australia, you know? I’m staying out there for a little bit longer and some of the others are as well, so it’s great. What can I say? It’s obviously very far away for us so it’s kind of exotic to go that far but at the same time, you’ve got this English sort of connection. Very similar to back home but obviously quite different, with the landscape and the environment. We’re definitely looking forward to it.”

“It’s nice to have a bit of variation, too.” he adds. “Australia doesn’t come along every day so when it was suggested we thought, ‘Nice one!’. It’s a refreshing change and then onwards and upwards to other stuff. We’re very lucky to still be able to be at it after all these years, you know? I would never have guessed it. I remember one time, years and years ago, when we were in Australia and we were having a pretty hard time, heading on a downward tailspin, you never really know at those times that they’re going to pick up. To imagine that you’re still going to be doing it, this much later, is amazing.”

Opportunities to return to areas of the globe that would not be afforded many people aren’t taken for granted and now, as Madness enters this new chapter of their career, they’re taking each one by the horns.

“We had different troubles and felt like this wasn’t happening.” Barson says.”I left for a bit and different people left and went to do different things. When I’d come back to the band, I’d left for about 10 years, and I didn’t really realise how much I’d missed it until I’d come back and started doing it again. It gave me a lot of energy and filled me with a lot of inspiration to be back making music again. You learn a lot, going through life. It’s great that we’re still doing it.”


April 10th | Fremantle Arts Centre, FREMANTLE
April 13th | Festival Hall, MELBOURNE
April 15th | Hordern Pavilion, SYDNEY

Madness will also be appearing at the Byron Bay Bluesfest this Easter.



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