In retrospect, it had all the makings of catastrophe about it. London ska-pop legends Madness had reformed for a one-off weekend reunion in North London, and elected to turn it into something of a -Best of British’ showcase. On the bill were newcomers Gallon Drunk and Flowered Up, followed by Ian Dury and Morrissey. 75,000 fans flocked to Finsbury Park on 8th August 1992 for fun and frolics – what could possibly go wrong?
Well, putting Morrissey on the bill, apparently. In some ways, it was only natural that Madness should ask him to take part; their producers, Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley had helmed several Morrissey singles and his 1991 album Kill Uncle (Madness’s Bedders played bass on the record), while Suggs himself had provided guest vocals on Moz’s 1990 single -Piccadilly Palare’. Moreover, Morrissey had enthused at length about the essential -Englishness’ of both acts, making many (this writer included) believe that Madstock was going to be a quaint garden party. It turned out to be anything but.
Morrissey’s 1992 album Your Arsenal had been somewhat of a watershed in his solo renaissance; with his new songwriting partners Alain Whyte and Boz Boorer coming from a rockabilly background, he was quiffed up and rocking out like never before. One particular track had, however, got up the noses of NME – -The National Front Disco’, with appeared to empathise with a young Englishman who felt his country was no longer his. This came in the wake of previously controversial songs of racially-tinged urban alienation, -Bengali In Platforms’ and -Asian Rut’.
Come Madstock, this combined explosively with Madness’s long-ignored, dark secret – the presence of a far-right skinhead element in their audience. Morrissey fans are, by nature and reputation, a peaceable breed – and even more so when they’re being antagonised. I have to confess my utter naÃ¯vetÃ© in this regard; if I’d had Trinny and Susannah to hand to ask what not to wear to Madstock, they’d probably have frowned upon my choice of a bright red polka-dot shirt, worn open over a t-shirt bearing the somewhat homoerotic sleeve image from Your Arsenal. Of course, I was only through the Park gates for a few moments when a lager-swilling huddle of bovver-booted neo-Nazis spotted my quiff and garb and blew poisoned kisses in my direction, tweeting, ‘ooh, Morrissey, Morrissey!’
Still, the first three acts passed through peacefully from my position at the back. Then, as a swell of scattered quiffs converged into a sea flowing towards the front, the stage backdrop was revealed: two giant, Fred Perry-adorned skinhead girls. Automatic seething ensued from the swastika’d necks of bald giants who’d refused to budge from their positions at the stage front; the wailing strains of Klaus Nomi’s -Wayward Sisters’ only inflamed them further. All of which reached a hate-filled crescendo as the gold lamÃ©-clad Morrissey and his rockabilly boys took to the stage and launched into a growlingly prophetic -You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side’.
In any mosh-pit, you expect at least a degree of jostling; but try being jostled into the back of one of these human Rottweilers for a stomach-churning, never-to-be-forgotten experience. The grimace, the fists like a tiger’s dinner, the threatening eyes, the sudden reminder of a young Paul Weller’s experience down in the tube station at midnight, they all flash before your eyes in an instant. I allowed the jostlers to carry me elsewhere, while hate-filled missiles (oranges and plastic bottles) rained onstage.
Meanwhile, Morrissey, a Liberace shirt slung over his skinny frame, is waving these fascist-spawned monsters’ Union Flag at them while relating the experience of Davey, the young man who went to the -National Front Disco’; if ever there was an sudden irony failure at NME, who’d slated Morrissey’s solo work for not -treading on the taboos of old’, it was right here. Only a couple of years later, they would laud Britpop and the reclaiming of the British flag, yet here, it was Morrissey, and not this foul minority in Madness’s audience, who they cast as the racist.
Morrissey finished his otherwise triumphant set early and failed to show for day two; Suggs never mentioned, nor was he ever quizzed upon, his band’s neo-fascist supporters’ behaviour that day. Meanwhile, me and my fellow Moz heads made our tremulous way to the tube station, well before midnight, in blissful ignorance of just how this story was about to be spun by the popular music press we’d supported for years; so long as we remember exactly what took place that day, the chroniclers and revisionists can simply get on with glossing over the inconvenient truth.