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Have a nutty New Year' Utter Madness will be rolling back the years when they appear at Cardiff's New Year's Eve Calennig celebrations, as Dave Owens discovered.

Byline: Dave Owens

* OU could forgive Utter Madness frontman Tony Wooldridge suffering a case of severe trepidation as he returns to Cardiff this weekend.

The last time the band, who are widely-recognised as Britain's top Madness tribute act, were in the city to play Calennig back in 2004 they were faced with several obstacles.

"It was -9C and someone had nicked our rider," laughs the man famed for his nutty take on Madness singer Suggs.

"It was so cold we were wearing everything we could find," he adds. "We had a heater on stage but it was aimed in front of the drummer, who was obviously very happy but we weren't. I danced a lot, I had to, to keep warm.

"Despite the cold night we still had 9,000 people partying in front of Cardiff City Hall. I've been looking at this year's forecast nervously," he laughs. "Although I think we'll be okay this time."

As for the ska band's pilfered backstage alcohol supply, Tony blames it on one of the support bands on that fateful night but refuses to name names.

"Let's just say I know who it was and it won't be happening this time. We'll have someone guarding our beers!" Formed in the summer of 1992 after originally performing as a Blues Brothers outfit, it was an encounter with Britain's most famous tribute band that prompted Tony to rethink his outfit's strategy.

"We were playing as the Blues Brothers tribute at a college in West London supporting The Bootleg Beatles," he recalls. "They were so good and were doing so well, we thought 'hmm there must be something in this tribute game', so we got our heads together and at that time there was no Madness tribute. Given we already had a horn section it seemed like the obvious move and the idea was born."

Taking their name from a 1986 Madness compilation album, the concept was snapped up by punters eager to relive the hits of one of Britain's greatest bands.

"Two weeks after forming Utter Madness we were headlining at Manchester University," recalls the singer, who juggles life as a florist with his doppelganger commitments.

"It went a bit mental after that and we must have played every university and college up and down the country for the next six or seven years."

Utter Madness got together when the original Nutty Boys were on hiatus, but when Suggs and the gang picked up the ska-pop baton once again, Tony admits he had mixed feelings.

"It was a bit of a bombshell at first," he says. "When we heard we thought on the one hand, 'oh god if they're returning we can't do it but on the other we figured that the publicity would be great, you know those who can't afford Madness can book us.

"Anyway we always reckoned that we were doing them a favour. By playing their songs, we thought those who enjoyed it would go out and buy their albums."

As the first, and what Tony describes as "the best Madness tribute band", his faithfully reproduced outfit has always been on the radar of the group famed for such classic hits as Baggy Trousers, It Must Be Love and House Of Fun.

And in a case of life imitating art, Utter Madness were lined up to support Suggs on a solo tour.

"Suggs was looking for a backing band," says Tony, taking up the thread of the story. "He came to see us at a pub in Acton and that was it. We talked about the tour and how it would work and we were all excited about it.

"It was around the time he was having hits with songs like Cecilia and Camden Town. The great shame was that the tour was pulled by the record company so it didn't happen."

It was almost inevitable the paths of Tony and Suggs would cross at some point however - they both share some uncanny similarities.

They are both 50, they both spent part of their younger lives living in Haverfordwest (the Madness man spent three years of his childhood living with relatives in West Wales) and obviously they share a love of soul, ska and bluebeat.

"Suggs is a great guy with a great sense of humour," says Tony. "I guess it is odd we share a few similarities.

"My dad was in the forces so that's how I ended up in Haverfordwest between the ages of eight and 10, I also lived in Harlech in North Wales from the age of two to five," he explains.

Now Tony's thoughts are firmly fixed on the biggest date in the party calendar and keeping the no doubt huge crowds that will amass outside Cardiff civic centre for Calennig entertained.

"We'll be playing all the hits, all the crowd pleasers, it should be some party," he tells me. "My wife is pregnant with our third child, so she's given me a free pass to party long into the night. I can confirm there will be an alcoholic beverage or two passing my lips after the show."

Let's hope then for Tony's sake history doesn't repeat itself. I hate to think of him on the stroke of midnight without a beer in his hand!

Laughing into 2012 There's a quality line-up of comedians at The Glee Club on New Year's Eve. Seeing in the New Year is experienced Bristol-based comic Mark Olver. Dave Owens found out what life is like for a comedian performing on the biggest party night of the year Q Does a New Year's Eve gig feel different to any other show? A It is actually quite different, there's a real sense of occasion.

People realise there's only one New Year and tend to behave, they get into it, there's very little negativity, they seem to enjoy it more.

Q Do you change your material to reflect the fact that it's New Year and perhaps become more reflective? A I tend to react to what happens in the room, so what I do is already to do with what the audience are feeling, it's about getting into the vibe and they'll really be up for it. One of the reasons that New Year's Eve is often such a good gig is that people have paid more for their tickets, and when an audience have paid a lot, they don't want to waste it.

If they've got in for free or paid very little, there's no investment - if you pay more, there's more of an investment.

That money is transferred to the comics a bit, but our wages don't go up hugely as the club has loads of staff who they have to pay more because it's New Year's Eve.

Q Would you rather be doing a better paid show? A I know lots of good comics who'd much rather do a pounds 2,000 corporate gig or horrible private party in the middle of nowhere, but I'd much rather play somewhere like The Glee as it's such a lovely place to play.

Q Any New Year's Eve anecdotes? A Most people's New Year's Eve anecdotes involve them getting drunk, but I don't drink!

But I do remember the first-ever New Year's Eve gig I played I was a bit ill.

It was a few years ago and I had that flu between Christmas and New Year and literally did the gig with my pyjamas underneath my jeans and shirt.

I got out of bed at 7.30pm, my dad had to drive me to the gig, I got up on stage and by 12.30am I was unconscious!

I felt absolutely dreadful, but it was worth it.

* Mark Olver performs at The Glee Club, Cardiff tomorrow night alongside Elis James, Michael Fabbri and Kockov.

Ticket details on 0871 472 0400 THE FULL CALENNIG LINE-UP ENTERTAINMENT kicks off on the free live music stage from 8.30pm featuring Botown, a band that will take you on a playful musical trip from India to America with a lively fusion of Motown and Mumbai. The night will be headlined by Utter Madness who hit the stage at 11pm and will sing all the classic Madness hits. Calennig wouldn't be complete without midnight fireworks then live music from Utter Madness until 12.20am Throughout New Year's Eve, Winter Wonderland will be open, with the opportunity to skate in the New Year on the Admiral Open Air Ice Rink, or take to the skies on the BT Infinity Star Ride both open until 1am. Calennig also marks the arrival of a family funfair.

Situated around the civic centre the funfair is open from midday until 1am on New Year's Eve and 2pm until 7pm on New Year's Day. Admiral will also once again be sponsoring the Admiral Free New Year's Eve bus service.

Running from 7.30pm until 2am the bus will help revellers get in and out of the city centre safely. * For more details on this service visit www.cardiffswinterwonderland.com RUNNING TIMES: * 8.30pm: Welcome to Calennig * 8.30pm-9.30pm: DJ Liam Curtin * 9.30pm-10.30pm: Botown * 10.30pm-11pm: DJ Liam Curtin * 11pm-11.55pm: Utter Madness * 11.55pm-midnight: The Big Countdown * Midnight: Fireworks * Midnight-12.20am: Utter Madness NEW YEAR'S EVE THREE TO SEE The Method The Moon Club, Cardiff Tickets: Free entry One of the hardest working bands in Wales bring the party with their finely-honed punk, funk, soul and rock 'n' roll noise to get you up on your feet.

Tel: 07800 000000 Lucie Jones Acapela, Pentyrch Tickets: pounds 20 The X Factor finalist now turned West End musical star sings all your favourite hits accompanied by a live band.

Tel: 029 2089 0862 Johnny Cage and the Voodoo Groove The Globe, Cardiff Tickets: pounds 10 Bringing you Cuban rock 'n' roll, dirty voodoo blues and sassy raunch and rumble music strictly for those who want to bump 'n' grind into 2012.

Tel: 029 2045 2151
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 30, 2011
Words:1663
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