The Secret History of Suggs From Madness

Suggs (on the right) in an MA jacket

Suggs is a pretty big name in the UK, and his band MADNESS is regarded as one of the defining groups of the 1980s, with a string of hits and frequent appearances on "Top of the Pops." But there are some interesting gaps in his "official" biography which you can find in various places, such as Wikipedia. 

Few people are supposed to know about Sugg's "connection" with the National Front, the skinhead movement, and Ian Stuart Donaldson of SKREWDRIVER fame, now regarded as one of the most "toxic" and "racist" bands of all time. In fact, these kinds of connections today would see anyone, no matter how big, totally cancelled and driven into the outer darkness. 

But there is such a great story in all this, because not only was Suggs connected to a real racial nationalist, but Madness was very much part of the Ska movement -- with its West Indian roots -- and even did "racial togetherness" Two-Tone tours with multiracial bands like THE SELECTER and THE SPECIALS.

But despite this being one of the most fascinating stories in music history, all you get from the "official" sources and the mainstream media are crickets.

Back of the bus: Pauline Black (Selecter), 
Suggs, and Nevile Stapes (The Specials)

The guy must have some really good PR people working hard to keep his "toxic" past out of the public limelight. But, in all fairness, it should also be pointed out that so-called "racialist" views were entirely normal in the 1970s and 80s among working class Brits, so neither Suggs or Donaldson should be seen as any kind of abnormal monster. In fact, a lot of today's political correctness should rightly be seen merely as a tool of class oppression, used to push down the working class.

So, what exactly was Sugg's connection with 
Ian Stuart Donaldson? Well, for a start there was a Scottish connection -- both Suggs, whose real name was Graham McPherson, and Donaldson were of Scottish background.

Suggs was 
born on 13 January 1961 in Hastings ("on a stormy night," according to the man himself), the only child of William Rutherford McPherson and Edith Gower, who may have been Welsh. Soon after he was born. Suggs's dad disappeared, leaving Suggs to be brought by his single mum, who sometimes worked as a "singer" in pubs and clubs in London’s sleazy Soho. In fact, it's clear from various stories that Suggs's mum was some kind of prostitute, while his dad appears to have been a "junkie."

As for his famous monicker, this was a nickname he chose almost at random so that he wouldn't be seen as "Scottish" down in Cockney London.

As he grew up he became interested in music, going to his first gig -- THE WHO -- in 1976 when he was 15. Around this time he started following 
the punk skinhead band SKREWDRIVER, fronted by Donaldson, which had come down from the North of England. He even became their roadie and a good friend of Donaldson, in whom he appears to have found a kindred spirit. 

The story, when it is commented upon at all, is that Donaldson and Skrewdriver were completely "non-racist" until around 1982 when they 
suddenly became "more openly" White nationalist. By that time Suggs and Madness had made it, having their first big hits in 1979, and -- so the narrative goes -- Suggs had already stopped associating with his old friend.

This is supposed to let Suggs off the hook, but if this story is at all true, it probably means that Suggs actually pushed Donaldson into his "race aware" politics, not the other way round. Donaldson, remember, was from the much Whiter and less "racially divided" North, while Suggs was a self-admitted Chelsea football hooligan, a group of people who were notoriously racist at the time.

But there was a lot of overlap between Madness's success and Suggs's friendship with Donaldson. 
The song "The Bed & Breakfast Man" on Madness's 1979 eponymous debut album is supposed to be about Donaldson, with the vid reportedly being filmed outside Donaldson's B&B in Kings Cross, where he was living at the time, having just moved out of Suggs's Mum's flat.


Some sources even say that Suggs was a driving force pushing Donaldson back into the music business. In 1981 Donaldson got a bit part as a skinhead in the Madness film "Take it or Leave It." He is credited as "Ian Stuart" in the IMBd listing.

There is also this rather cosy photo from 1982 showing 
Donaldson & Suggs polishing their boots in Suggs's Mum’s flat, before heading to The Last Resort, a legendary skinhead shop in Brick Lane.


According to Micky French, the owner of The Last Resort, "It was Suggsy that secretly funded the 'Back With A Bang' single and the Skrewdriver comeback in 1982." 

Suggsy is to be commended for sticking by an old friend, even as he became a big star and had to amend his public opinions accordingly.


Daniel Barge
Revenge of Riff Raff
7th March, 2021

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